jasonphoenix Jason Phoenix: About Jason Phoenix

8.27.2011

About Jason Phoenix



This is the obligatory About Me.  

Every blog ends up with one, and its probably best to get it over with sooner than put it off for later.  I tried to put it off until now, but the time had come to properly introduce myself.

I am Jason Phoenix.  

I reside in Lawrence, a small town on the eastern side of the great state of Kansas.  

I am a multimedia artist.  I work to express myself with words, images, sound, music, video, and the Internet as the moment and inspiration call or allow for them.




Words, images, sound, music, and video.  That sounds about right.

I am a writer.  I would say I'm an author, but I've never sought publishing.  I just write; therefore I’m a writer and can’t claim to be an author.  I've been writing since I was five, making it the craft I've been doing the longest.  I've written short stories, poetry, technical treatises, op-ed's, interviews, press releases, corpro-speak, ramblings, and so on.  I've been keeping journals since I was 13, which this blog/journal has become a part of.  Since I'm obviously writing at the moment, I'll say my greatest weakness is my barrage of verbiage.  The rest speaks for itself.  I hope.

Writing is the one talent that I feel I can do effortlessly.  This isn't to boast, because writing is also the craft I have studied least and would be hardest put to describe the technicalities involved.  I simply find it easy to express myself using words and sentences, and others have judged my writing favorably, but for those same reasons I have neglected honing this skill.

Despite my neglect, I always find myself lost in the very act of writing, whether in longhand with a fountain pen, tic-tac'ing on a computer keyboard, or pounding away on a manual typewriter.  I have a beautiful Royal that's followed me since I found it at a garage sale at 18, and that is still a joy to weave words directly onto paper with.

I read a lot.  This should reassure you about my writing abilities (although it might just make me sound even more pretentious).  According to Google Reader, I've browsed about 2000+ news articles in the last three months.  I read an average of 3-5 books a week, if time allows (and I'm not online).  I've read 37 of the 100 must reads from the BBC, and skimmed another 16 of their entries.  When I was unencumbered by anything more strenuous than schoolwork, I probably read 10-20 books a week, and when I had no schoolwork, I probably managed to get through more.  Most of my non-news reading happens from 2 am to 5 am, a habit that started when I was about seven and I haven't been able to shake.

I like the writings of Robert Heinlein, Roald Dahl, Stephen King, Issac Newton, Kim Stanley Robinson, Issac Asimov, Lewis Carroll, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Allen Poe, Frank Herbert, Robert Louis Stevenson, H.P. Lovecraft, Kurt Cobain, Jack Kerouac, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, C.S. Lewis, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Harris, Bucky Fuller, Allen Ginsberg, and Frank Miller, in no particular order of affection or discovery.

I am an artist.  Being an artist was my earliest aspiration I can remember (besides becoming a detective, a fireman, astrophysicist, doctor, or a cowboy). I had visions of painting on canvases by the seashore, a palette in my hand, gazing into the sunset.


However, I discovered that no matter how hard I tried, or what techniques I studied from about age seven to fifteen, I could not replicate the things I was seeing nor the things I imagined as well as I could see or imagine.  After years of effort, I came to the conclusion my eyes and hands were faulty instruments, and around this same time I threw myself completely into making music.

However, one day several years later, I had an epiphany.  I realized that the only thing that qualifies an artist or their art is simply to claim that they are an artist, and that their work is art.  After that assertion, its up to the world to decide whether or not what they're looking at is good art or bad art.



But the claim is enough to make it true. The hope would be to be a good artist, rather than a poor one, but no one can take the title away once awarded to oneself.

My designs evolved from an elementary school phase when I began drawing mazes.  I drew thousands of mazes, and made my friends complete them.  At one point I grew bored of the straight lines and 90 degree angles I was drawing.  I started trying to incorporate curves while avoiding the usual circular mazes.  This didn't mean much at the time, but looking backwards, this was the start of the designs I draw today.  Over time these mazes evolved into a sort of persistent doodle, and then my idle drawings began to take on a unique and personal design.

Mazes
Since then, I draw what can be described technically as monochromatic black & white designs, influenced by tribal/indigenous art, repetition, asymmetry, optical illusions, fractals, positive & negative space, and natural processes, like motion, water, smoke.  The smallest parts are like the largest parts and vice versa.  Zooming into one small section still resembles the whole design when seen further out. I attempt to create a feeling of motion within my designs, using the shapes and high contrast of black & white.  My designs are abstract, rarely representing the form of something that exists in the real world, like a face, or a figure.



An Example of My Artwork
I'm interested in creating art which ideally could appeal to anyone, of any age, race, class or culture.  It is my hope that my designs appeal to the eye, and bring them pleasure, no matter what one's background.  Part of my interest in monochromatic work is that it can be enjoyed equally by those of us who are colorblind--as well as the fact that differently colored lights can completely change my black and white designs instantaneously in a gallery setting.  Likewise, I take pleasure in generating beautiful asymmetry in my designs, because so much of our perception of beauty relies upon symmetry.

The duality of black and white, with the ambiguity and illusions provided by greyscales and gradients inspires me even as it limits my boundaries.  The interplay of positive and negative space created by simple lines, curves dots, and swirls that creates space and the impression of motion still intrigues me a decade after the first proto designs began to form beneath my pen.

I work primarily with pens and markers on heavy white paper to create my designs, drawing freehand.    Works evolve and change as I add more elements, or fill in spaces with ink, but cannot be subtracted from once committed to paper.  I scan some of my images, and then those digital representations can be further manipulated using my computer, enhancing and distorting my designs in ways I could not accomplish alone. 


Of course, these digital images are much easier to replicate through printing, or to make available online for viewing.  I also like to work in chalk on the street, with the knowledge that my work in that media is temporary, only lasting for the moment, with any passerby a witness to the designs.

For me, creating my visual art is Zen time.  I do not study technique as seriously as I do with my music, preferring instead to surrender myself within the lines and curves I draw.  I prefer this subconcious release to actively pursuing the specifics of my technique mentally as I am creating.  When I am drawing, I am able to let go of myself and fall into a completely meditative state.

My art serves another function, which is to promote my music.  My designs serve as the imagery to go along with the music I make, letting anyone who sees my art associate it with my sounds, and vice versa.  I draw during live music concerts whenever possible, or when listening to recordings of my own and other's music. My artwork only appears associated with myself; I do not solicit or accept invitations to use my artwork except for work I am personally committed involved in.

I do study artists and their lives, and I draw inspiration from their work, as well as philosophers, photographers, cinematographers, and the pyschology of vision.  I am influenced in no particular order by Van Gogh, Banksy, Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst, Alexander Calder, Chris Cunningham, Akiyoshi Kitaoaka, H.R. Giger, Salvador Dali, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, Alex Grey, Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Shepard Fairey, and Ralph Steadman--among others.

I am a musician and composer. I am a sound engineer & recording artist.  I am obsessed with sound.  I've dabbled in many different styles over the years, with the longest obsession being blues, and the second longest being electronic music.  I am primarily a guitarist, but I also play percussion, as well as synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, effects, and mixers.

If it had been possible, I might have been playing music from the age of five, but my fate was to wait another eight years before really beginning to play.  I had always thought that being a musician was something akin to magic, achieved through an alchemy of intrinsic talent and strict, disciplined education.  My closest relative with musical talent was my uncle, who made playing instruments and singing seem effortless, and all the more magical.

It wasn't until watching a video of some kids in my church's youth group, performing in their punk band that I realized anyone could be a musician.  I certainly thought after watching their video that I could at least make an equal or better noise as they were.  Even with a complete lack of musical training, I thought for the first time that perhaps even I could make music.

I convinced my parents to let me get an old Harmony acoustic out of our storage room.  It had floated around our various houses as a decoration for as long as I could remember.  I got new strings, and one of the church goers happened to be a guitarist with his own studio.  He strung my guitar for me, showed me some chords, and sympathized at my poor instrument.

He also asked me if I would help him run the soundboard during church services, so that he could sit and enjoy the services from time to time.  I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer number of buttons, knobs, and faders, but gradually able to mix the band and the sermon.  This was my introduction to live sound, battling the demons of feedback as the pastor would alternately shout and whisper, dance across the stage and then get right in front of the main speakers and shout to high heaven.

Between learning to play guitar on a terrible facsimile of a guitar, and learning to run a soundsystem under less than ideal circumstances, I became absolutely addicted to making music.  I set aside my art supplies, sketchbooks, and canvases, and I began learning everything I could about the guitar and audio engineering, from anyone or anything I could get my hands on.  

I became obsessed with rock, which lead to me to the blues, which lead me into the world of improvisation.  I remain obsessed with good blues, and with the joy of musicians creating something completely new in the moment before an audience.  With Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan as my primary templates, I created small bands in high school, and collected guitar effects, discarding them when I learned how they worked.

In 1999, my twin worlds of live sound and guitar collided when I was exposed to electronic dance music.  I heard Aphex Twin for the first time that summer, and couldn’t understand how a single person could be responsible for such music.  A few months later I randomly going to a rave and hearing Acid Techno, I came out with a desire to make the music I had just experienced.  I truly believed that I had stumbled up on the future, and wanted to become a part of it.  I started creating electronic music with anything I could get ahold of.  My skills in live sound helped me with learning the in’s and out’s of synthesizers, samplers, drum machines, audio effects--although this process took me much longer than I initially thought it would.

Early Days with d33p thou9ht
I joined forces with some friends that were exploring electronic music production, and formed a 3 person Live PA with them called d33p thou9ht.  Through equipment and personnel changes, we played locally and regionally, as far out as Atlanta, GA for two years.  After creative and geographical differences, I struck out on my own, and began focusing on broken beats of all sorts of tempos with my sampler.  


I happened upon the book Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage through a girlfriend’s father during this time.  Cage’s predictions were so accurate that it completely rearranged the way I looked at music, at math, and most importantly gave me a long view of electronic music as having a much broader and deeper history and loftier potential than I had previously thought.

I tried my hand at every electronic music genre that caught my attention--ambient, noise, tribal, techno, breaks, dnb, dub, jungle.  I learned how to cut a sample from a jazz record and how to write a synth patch.  I learned how to sequence beats, and how to use effects to completely change and rearrange otherwise static or mundane sounds.  I began studying and playing percussion, and collecting instruments and objects that make all sorts of sounds to record.  

My great hope was technology that would allow me to create and manipulate electronic music using samplers and my guitar together, and amazingly enough, technology caught up to my ideas.  I’m currently able to perform using my guitar along with software, hardware, some percussion, and my technique.  This allows me to collaborate with others as well as to create music not easily categorized nor described.


As an electronic musician I put a premium on what could be improvised live and in the moment onstage, rather than on creating music in the studio and then replaying the results for an audience.  In part my focus on live improv was rooted in my background in blues & jazz music, and in part from the recognition that technology allows a single musician do so much more than in the past.  I do not want the machines to play themselves, but rather to find ways to work with the machines as collaborators.  

Electronic music remains the most challenging form I’ve experienced, and I am continually amazed by all the new music constantly merging and submerging over time.  Over the last ten years, I have managed to play hundreds of different gigs, in all sorts of venues, for audiences of all ages.  I’ve played with many of the best DJ’s and Live PA’s in my area, and have helped to further the local electronic music scene along the way.  I’ve busked on the streets with my electronic instruments, and I have headlined dance music events in other states.  

I’ve been influenced by an extremely broad cross-section of musical history, and I am loathe to list any for fear of leaving someone equally important out by name dropping a few.  I’ve been blessed to have witnessed and weathered so many different musical styles over time, and to see electronic music sublimate or subsume so much popular music.  I was right about electronic music’s future place, and I believe I have been proven right about live improvisation in electronic music, although this still seems the exception.

The newest artform I’ve been working has been Video.  I am extremly interested in adding motion to my artwork, as well as capturing my live performances--and adding video to my performances.  Video has proven to be one of the most difficult media I’ve tried my hand at, but also one of the most enjoyable, when I’m able to complete a project. I am coming to realize the benefits of partnering with others who have honed their craft in the visual arts specifically.

Specifically to me, I think video is most suited for understanding my music.  Without the visual aspect, I feel something vital is missing, and that the additional interpretation of having something visually associated with the sounds being heard is highly effective.  Also, because of my emphasis on live improvisation, video allows that aspect to be captured as well as the audio can be.

As this is the latest media, its the least developed of my crafts, and the one I can talk least about.  I have always enjoyed cinematography and photography, although until recently as an observer.  As I find myself behind and in front of the camera lens, my perception is evolving.  I hope to practice this art and refine my skills at it.  I’ll be using Google’s online products--YouTube, & Picasa to distribute my video work to anyone willing to see it, posted on this website first.

This website itself is the first version of my explorations into the Internet, and using the browser as an artform.  Obviously, the artform element is still coming, but this will serve as an initial outpost to get my various works available to a public audience.  I have spent many years plotting and planning my own portal online, and although jasonphoenix (dot) com does not quite yet match my imaginations and my machininatons, what is more important is for it to exist at all.  An idea unrealized is less than an idea that becomes a reality, even if that reality does not yet reach its full expression and potential.

As for myself, I feel I am just now achieving a competency and confidence in my abilities.  Enough that I feel comfortable revealing myself and expressing myself.  I look forward to becoming part of the wider world of writers, artists, and musicians, and actively participating in this world we have inherited.

-Jason Phoenix
2011
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